D. Walking the humble life:
“For I say through the grace given to me, to everyone that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, according as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith” (Rm 12:9,10).
- To everyone: The mandate of this text is relational in reference to every Christian. Solomon was right: “For men to seek their own glory is not glory” (Pv 25:27). Pride destroys relationships because it pits one disciple against another. Arrogance moves one to exalt himself over his fellow servant in Christ. When one seeks his own glory, he often moves into “deglorifying” others.
In the sociological context of Romans 12:3, Paul is hitting directly at the pride of the Jews against the grafted in Gentiles. It must be noted what a particular transformed Jewish disciple [Peter] at one time said to a Gentile unbeliever [Cornelius] who had invited the Jew into his home:
“Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons. But in every nation he who fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him” (At 10:34,35).
By the time Paul arrived at the context of Romans 12, it seems that a reverse cultural prejudice was taking place among the Gentile disciples. He explained this in chapter 11:17-21. The Gentiles were the “wild olive trees” who were grafted into the first Christians who were Jews (Rm 11:17). The Gentiles thus partook of the root and fatness of the Jewish heritage of salvation that came through the Jews. For some reason, some of the Gentile disciples marginalized this salvational heritage that came through Israel. But Paul answered, “… do not boast against the branches. But if you [Gentiles] boast, remember that you do not support the root [Israel], but the root you” (Rm 11:18).
When Jewish branches were broken off because of their unbelief, the Gentile branches were grafted in because of their faith (Rm 11:19). However, the Gentile branches must not forget that they stand as grafted in branches because of faith (Rm 11:20). For this reason, there is no room for arrogance, but only fear lest one fall because of unbelief. So Paul’s warning to the Gentile branches was direct: “For if God spared not the natural branches [the Jews], take heed lest He also not spare you [the Gentiles]” (Rm 11:21).
2. Sobering thoughts: When discussing the transformed life of the disciple, therefore, there is never room for boasting and arrogance in reference to one’s religious heritage. The Jews came to Christ with a heritage of the one true and living God. The Gentiles came to Christ with the heritage of idolatry. But in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek [Gentile]. There is neither bondservant nor free. There is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gl 3:28). This truth should inspire sobriety on the part of everyone who comes into Christ through obedience to the gospel. When Paul wrote concerning our resurrection with Christ out of the waters of baptism, he spoke of “walking in newness of life” (Rm 6:4). He was referring to the mind that had been transformed from focusing on the world and self to focusing on God. And since we stand by a faith that focuses on God, then we must be careful not to lose our focus.
3. A measure of faith: “Measure of faith” is defined in Romans 12:3 according to the consistent definition by which we must always understand faith. In verse 4 Paul explained that “… all members do not have the same function.” Verses 3 and 4 connect faith and function. When interpreters define faith as a simple mental ascent of belief without works, they have fallen victim to a twisted understanding of the faith by which disciples of Divinity are to be defined. We must never disconnect faith from function, for if we do, we will end up with a dead faith.
It seems that some of James’ audience had fallen victim to believing that one could be a living sacrifice by disconnecting faith from function. “What does it profit,” James questioned these people, “if someone says he has faith but does not have works [function]? Can faith [alone] save him?” (Js 2:14). James’ inspired answer to the question was direct: “Even so faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Js 2:17).
No disciple can defend his discipleship on the basis of faith only. If he does, then his faith is dead. If there is no function as a result of our faith, then our faith is not acceptable before God. Both Paul and James agree. If our faith does not motivate one to function as a living sacrifice, then our faith is dead. We are living in the deception of our own lethargy.
Paul answers the “faith only” advocates in a positive manner. The body is universal. Local members manifest the working faith of the universal body, and thus, the universal body is defined by the “measure of [functioning] faith” that is given to each local member to minister to the body with universal results.
[Lecture series continues March 24.]